Saturday, June 6, 2009

My three-year-old could do better than that!

Though we're all way too sophisticated to say it out loud, most of us have probably felt at least some sympathy with this cliche response when confronted by avant-garde art in one form or another. Can these people be serious? What's really going on, here?

Those are the questions addressed in our new film, Noisy People, or, 7 Portraits of San Francisco Bay Area Musicians: Improvising a Musical Life. Filmmaker Tim Perkis followed 7 "experimental" musicians for a year; the result is a revealing and endearing portrait of artistic life outside the mainstream.

All of the seven still have their day jobs. This is important. Professional musicians everywhere cringe at the idea of playing "just for the love of it" -- they need to eat, too, and music is an incredibly demanding endeavor. Music has always had a role as a product in the marketplace. But as the director says, "Not all lives are built around economic striving. The artists in my film remind us that there is another way to live: pursuing a passion directly, independent of its economic value. They exemplify an alternative political and social reality."

In fact, your three-year-old could not do what these musicians do, but they don't mind being compared to children as they actually strive to be childlike in terms of wonder, curiosity and spontaneity. At the same time, they are all very serious about their music. They have thought long and deeply about it and about the creative process and are perfectly articulate about what they are trying to do and why.

They are also a marvelously quirky bunch! The woman who says, "I realized that if I wanted to hear tree parts, I would have to do it myself" knows she is playing weird stuff. Avant-garde, experimental, improv, noise - call it whatever, it is meant to push boundaries and challenge the listener.

But it also seeks to awaken and inspire. To quote the director again, these are musicians that understand that "all meaningful creation arises from engagement, generosity, and cooperation." And as Ornette Coleman said, "Every person, whether they play music or don't play music, has a sound, their own sound." Listen, receive, ponder: You may play nothing if you choose ... but do so with intensity!

Weird stuff? Check it out -- it's at your library!

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